Crime spree gets man 50 years in jail

Robberies, kidnappings included in guilty plea

`He snapped,' defender says

Pa., Md. police and FBI part of six-day manhunt


July 25, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Westminster man was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday in a crime spree that included a sawed-off shotgun, a manhunt, two armed robberies and the abduction of a Woodbine couple and their 11-year-old son.

John Henry Williams Jr., who spent six days at large before surrendering to face charges in December, admitted to robbing a woman who was washing her clothes Dec. 11 at a Sykesville coin-operated laundry and to robbing a gas station attendant in Sykesville later that day, collecting more than $1,000 in cash and jewelry. He also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and other charges in a home invasion a week later.

In that instance, he forced members of the Pipes family to drive him to a store in Taneytown, said Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, who prosecuted the case and asked for the 50-year sentence. Williams stole $210 in money and jewelry and left the family to drive back home.

"I felt pretty scared when he had us," the Pipes' 12-year-old son wrote in a victim impact statement presented to the court yesterday. "Please put Williams in jail for a long time."

Williams, whose criminal record shows only relatively minor charges in 1990 and 1991, apologized for his acts.

"I understand the impact it has had on their lives," Williams, 30, told the judge. "I feel terrible that I'm the one that changed their lives in a negative fashion like that. I'm not a monster."

He added: "I hope eventually they'll be able to pick up the pieces of the things I've broken for them."

Williams, of the first block of Pennsylvania Ave., had lost his job as a nurse's assistant at a Manchester nursing home, and "he snapped," said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Brian Green. Williams has a history of depression, a wife, a son and a daughter due to be born this week, the lawyer said.

"It was right around Christmastime, and as incongruous as it is, he was going to use the money for his Christmas presents," Green told Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. After acknowledging how Williams' crime spree had terrified the county, he asked for a 40-year term.

Yesterday, Williams pleaded guilty to four counts in the Dec. 11 armed robberies at the Admiral Cleaners in the 6300 block of Sykesville Road and at the Winfield Amoco gasoline station in the 1600 block of West Liberty Road.

Williams also pleaded guilty to six counts in the kidnapping case, which occurred a week later. On that day, police received a report of a suspicious car outside a Winfield liquor store, Barnes said. Not long before, a man with a sawed-off shotgun had tried to rob a Randallstown business. Attempted robbery charges in that case were filed in Baltimore County.

State police chased the suspicious car from the Winfield liquor store to Braddock Road in Woodbine, where they arrested the female driver, Barnes said. Williams, who had jumped from the car, then forced his way into the family's home and took them captive.

The female driver, his cousin Sharron Denise Bowman, 38, of the 1800 block of Sams Creek Road, pleaded guilty, agreed to cooperate and was sentenced July 9 to an 18-month jail term

After a six-day manhunt by police in Maryland and Pennsylvania and the FBI for the 6-foot-9-inch Williams, he arranged to surrender Christmas Eve and confessed, before Green arrived and stopped the interrogation, the defense attorney said.

In the courtroom yesterday, Williams was polite and contrite. He nodded with a look of concern to his sister and pregnant wife, Bonnie Williams, a nurse, who told the judge, "I love John. ... He's a wonderful father." Two of the robbery victims also were in court, but the Pipes family did not attend.

But at the laundry, said Amy Haynes, 31, of Marriottsville, Williams was not polite but "harsh" when he surprised her - alone washing her clothes.

He became impatient when she was too slow to remove a bracelet, of sentimental value to her, because she was just out of rehabilitation from an automobile accident and could not turn her right wrist - as she demonstrated outside the courtroom after the sentencing.

"I thought I was going to die. I was going to get shot. It was over," she said of her fumbling with the clasp that night. "He's sorry now. When he did this to me, he was a very angry person."

The judge imposed three consecutive maximum 30-year terms on the kidnapping convictions, then suspended 40 of the 90 years, and concurrent terms on seven counts including armed robbery, burglary, conspiracy and use of a handgun.

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